- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in anticipation of potentially violent protests erupting in connection with white nationalist Richard Spencer’s scheduled appearance Thursday at the University of Florida, his first on-campus event since participating in the violent Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The two-term Republican governor signed an executive order Monday declaring a state of emergency in Alachua County, effectively allowing for state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies to quickly coordinate resources with the local sheriff’s office ahead of Mr. Spencer’s planned speaking engagement on the school’s Gainesville campus this week.

“We live in a country where everyone has the right to voice their opinion, however, we have zero tolerance for violence, and public safety is always our number one priority,” Mr. Scott said in a statement. “This executive order is an additional step to ensure that the University of Florida and the entire community is prepared so everyone can stay safe.”

Mr. Spencer, 39, is the president of the National Policy Institute think-tank and first achieved notoriety last year for his ties to the alt-right, an emerging political movement frequently associated with far-right ideologies including white nationalism and racism. He made headlines last November for giving an address in Washington, D.C., where audience members saluted him with Nazi hand gestures, and again in January for being publicly assaulted during a live interview on the day of President Trump’s inauguration.

This summer, he had been slated to headline the “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville, but his appearance was canceled after Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency when participants including neo-Nazis, Klansman and other white supremacists began clashing with counterprotesters.

Three people died in connection with “Unite the Right,” according to police, including a counterprotester mowed down by a motorist and two state troopers killed in a helicopter crash while monitoring the chaos. University of Florida administrators cited Charlottesville as the reason for refusing Mr. Spencer’s request to speak on campus one month later on Sept. 12, but ultimately agreed to accommodate him at a later date, setting the stage for his scheduled speaking engagement Thursday at the school’s 800-seat Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

“Although UF leadership has denounced Spencer’s white supremacist rhetoric, the University, as a state entity, must allow the free expression of all viewpoints,” the school said earlier this month.

Indeed, administrators and local authorities alike expect Mr. Spencer’s appearance will prompt both protesters and counterprotesters to descend on campus Thursday, creating conditions the governor agreed to be worthy of warranting state assistance.

“This measure, which came at the request of Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, is not in response to any specific heightened threat. It is a process that enables various law enforcement agencies to work together more efficiently,” University of Florida said in a statement concerning the governor’s declaration Monday.

“What was needed was the ability to reach out to some specialty teams,” Sheriff Darnell told the Orlando Sentinel. “We’ve never been able to predict the unknown and we just don’t know what to expect.”

Mr. Spencer called the reaction “flattering” but “most likely overkill,” the Sentinel reported.

“If someone is coming to speak, I feel like declaring the state of emergency is out of bounds,” he told the Naples Daily News. “I feel like this may be an excuse to cancel the event, but I simply don’t know. … There’s no good reason why the speech shouldn’t take place.”

Mr. Spencer told The Washington Times his talk will address “why racial identity is necessary … and why it’s the ultimate outcome of the historical process over the past century.”

University of Florida previously said it plans to spend at least $500,000 on security expenses related to Thursday’s event. Mr. Spencer was not invited to campus, but he had requested and received permission to rent the Phillips Center, the school said previously.

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